From Alexandra Valencia
TABACUNDO, Ecuador (Reuters) – At one of the oldest flower farms in Ecuador, workers are planting hemp on land traditionally used for roses, betting that sales of cannabinoid products will help offset the decline in flower sales caused by the pandemic.
Declining sales, fueled by the coronavirus outbreak, dealt a blow to Ecuador’s flower sector, one of the Andean nation’s traditional export industries, and led farms to cut production or want to reinvent themselves.
Farm Boutique Flowers in Tabacundo, an hour north of the capital Quito, has built cannabis greenhouses to take advantage of recent legislative reforms that allow the plant to be grown – even though marijuana is still illegal.
Marijuana contains higher levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the cannabinoid that causes a high – than hemp. Ecuadorian law requires cannabis to contain less than 1% THC.
“The project was born out of tough times,” said Klaus Graetzer, floriculture manager at Boutique Flowers and president of the hemp startup CannAndes.
“The flower industry was hit hard in the pandemic. We saw the opportunity to use this new regulation. “
His 30 acre farm reduced production by 37.5% to 15 million strains in 2020 as orders from the US, Europe and Russia, the main markets, decreased.
According to the flower producer and export association Expoflores, total flower exports from Ecuador fell by 8% in the past year.
Cannabis plants are increasingly grown around the world for the production of cannabinoid, which is being researched for various medicinal uses and has increasingly found use as a relaxant.
However, CannAndes sees the greatest potential in the niche business with hemp flowers, which can be smoked as a reliever for illnesses such as nausea or anxiety.
Hemp flowers have no psychotropic effects and can be made with much of the traditional infrastructure of the flower industry. CBD oils, on the other hand, require industrial machinery to separate oil from plant material.
“The idea is to export smokable CBD flowers to Switzerland: this is the largest market for this flower,” said CannAndes manager Felipe Norton. “Given the experience we have with flowers, this is a good opportunity.”
CannAndes plans to start exporting in the next two years and is applying to the Ecuadorian authorities for licenses to sell CBD products such as personal care creams and teas and edible oils for chocolates and sweets.
Ecuador’s flower industry leaders remain skeptical of hemp as the value of related products fluctuates sharply as consumer trends and government regulatory decisions change, said Expoflores President Alejandro Martinez.
At the end of 2019, Ecuador legalized the import of hemp seeds as well as the production, marketing and export of hemp. The Department of Agriculture has approved 46 ten-year licenses for various phases of hemp development.
“We have the climate and soil conditions to grow, but demand will determine supply,” said Ecuador’s Vice Minister for Productive Development, Ney Barrionuevo. “At the moment it is just beginning.”
(Additional reporting by Tito Correa, editor by Brian Ellsworth and Nick Zieminski)